Sustainable Growth Greece Interview

Sustainable Development as a Way out of Crisis

Expert Interview of Zefi Dimadama on multi-actor economic strategies, energy transition and the pillars of sustainability in Greece


"DSC_0031" (CC BY-NC 2.0) by rachidH


The one-fits-all approach does not fit the current socioeconomic environment. It is imperative that we develop horizontal policies, in cooperation with all involved players, to tackle multiple problems effectively.


The interview was conducted with Zefi Dimadama, Environmental Economist with a PhD,  and Vice President of the Hellenic Political Association for Women. Having pursued her doctoral degree in environmental and development studies, policies of sustainable development as well as their implementation constitute one of her major research and working fields. In her opinion, the adoption of such policies and the role of different stakeholders should be considered a major asset, not an additional burden.

 

What are the most tangible and visible consequences of the global financial crisis in your country? What do you consider to be the biggest economic challenge for your country since the beginning of the financial crisis? How has the perception of problems and challenges changed since the crisis broke out? What was of concern before 2008 and what is of concern now?

In my view one of the greatest challenges, not only of the last years, is to develop a common strategy for growth, especially at the national level. Unfortunately, the financial crisis in Greece, like pieces of domino, affected other countries as well. We focus on stopping the financial crisis in the EU not only through Greece, but also taking into consideration the other affected countries: Italy, Spain, Portugal are as well struggling to overcome economic turmoil.

Coming back to Greece, I believe that we are in need of a targeted, inclusive strategy to jointly work with all stakeholders – business, entrepreneurs, media, and politicians – to exit the economic crisis.  For example, we talk about enhancing competitiveness. But how can we address this without touching upon other important issues like vast taxation, unemployment, investment. On the other hand, we aim for long-term strategies in flourishing sectors like tourism, but still this in not being done in a sustainable, flexible manner. How can we talk about a sustainable tourism industry without including the environmental factor? Excessive use of natural resources, littering of the coast and oil pollution are but a few of the dangers the eco-systems are facing due to unregulated tourist activity.  

In my view, what we lacked to see all these years is that efficient economic reform in a sustainable manner requires an interdisciplinary approach, joint forces and consensus at all levels, and not unilateral decisions imposed on us from the top to down.

So, I strongly believe that we need to join forces for a common plan. We are in negotiations with the EU and we have reached several agreements, but we have not yet developed our specific, result-oriented “National Strategic Plan” with five specific topics /fields to guide us out of the crisis, one that we will all support. Sadly, in these six years, governmental structures, political parties, private sector, media, NGOs and think tanks have not managed to work together for a common plan and its joint implementation.  On the contrary, we are experiencing rivalries between political parties that several times have led to dead ends. In my view, working together for the common good under a mutually acceptable national development strategy is the way out of this crisis.  

 

Which role do you think the EU and national governments should play in boosting Inclusive Growth?

The EU has developed the EUROPE 2020 strategy addressing exactly this: equal opportunities and access to growth for everyone. However, this can only be implemented if national governments put an effort to it.

For Greece, national structural reforms, incentives for investments and of course, creation of jobs to tackle the increase of unemployment and poverty, are essential. The brain drain is another challenge that we should address effectively. Social injustice, equal access to resources and markets for everyone, are also a crucial factor towards inclusive growth.

Which brings me back to what I have mentioned before: the one-fits-all approach does not fit the current socioeconomic environment. It is imperative that we develop horizontal policies, in cooperation with all involved players, to tackle multiple problems effectively.  

Cooperation is an important factor for successful policies. Therefore, promoting an “exit” from the EU is misleading. On the contrary, what is important, is strong and productive cooperation to improve the EU and its results for the benefit of all Europeans.

Certainly there are injustices and gaps to be filled in, but only by working together under a common policy framework we can overcome these effectively. Unfortunately, here in Greece as well, there is a growing eurosceptism, tendency against the EU, especially among young people;

Therefore it is important to understand that the benefits they have grown to enjoy, like access to research, opportunities to study or to work abroad, are exactly the results of this common framework. Young people are the future, so we should aim to give them incentives to work towards the EU’s improvement and not exclusion.

 

Do you think economic growth, sustainable development and social inclusion are possible to combine within the framework of one political agenda for Europe?

If we, the European citizens, can’t do that, can’t go on with the implementation and combination of these two separate elements – economic and social aspects – no-one can do it. We have years of experience in solidarity; France, Greece and others have set the pace for a joint vision. It’s not easy, it’s not something we can give a deadline to. It is a long term procedure, but I think we can find a balance on how to meet the goals. Indeed, competitiveness and market-oriented policies are a challenging task but we should set the basis by decreasing the tension between growth and social justice first.  

Of course, there are positive results already, but we need to take into consideration that currently we experience new challenges. Aside from economic growth strategies, Europe is in need of a stronger social strategy. The migration and refugee crisis demand for common social policies to tackle xenophobia, social exclusion, populism and racism.

In my opinion, effective results and progress will come mainly through the education of societies, especially of the young people and students, towards protection of human rights, solidarity and social justice. National and European funds should aim for better education systems, research, in universities and schools. Civil society organisations and think tanks also have a fair share of responsibility to tackle social injustice.

 

What opportunities could the energy transition (i.e. turning to RES and green industries) bring for your country?

The wide availability of renewable energy potential (wind-, hydro-, biomass-, geothermal-, solar- & solar thermal-energy) combined with ongoing large-scale infrastructure projects involving Greece mean that the country could become a key player with significant investment opportunities in both East-West and North-South directions.

Consequently I strongly believe that energy transition can be a way out of the crisis for Greece. I was happy to hear about the great achievements of Denmark and Portugal in energy efficiency, but yet I am disappointed that my country is not able to take advantage of its rich natural resources.

Greece is in need of a targeted, result-oriented national energy policy and investment strategy in order to gain the optimum from its various, rich energy resources. In my perspective the development of the energy sector, of course under strict environmental rules, could potentially become a productive industry for Greece with measurable results regarding GDP, employment rates and research opportunities, to name a few.

It is obvious that aside from market-oriented strategies for energy it is really important to enhance education for this field. Environmental consciousness should be high on our national agenda from an early age, while young researchers should be provided with incentives to work on this field for the benefit of the sector presently and in the long term. For example, I would suggest the introduction of variable syllabi focusing on the subject, the establishment of targeted departments as well as the improvement of research opportunities, internships and scholarships.

Besides, let’s not forget that sustainable development is about three pillars: social, environmental and economic growth. In consequence, sustainability requires a more targeted, inclusive approach. So the pursuit of economic growth and social justice are not enough, we also need to enhance the field of environment. This means that we have to aim for an increase of investments in renewables and Green Growth. If we aim for social justice,  we will need to promote energy security and more importantly, energy democracy in order to tackle energy poverty.


The interview was conducted by Maria Skóra.